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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Access to island chain before public

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Debate over access to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will go before the public in a series of statewide hearings this month on the state's proposal over new regulations.

Some organizations, such as the Hawaiian environmental alliance Kahea and Environmental Defense, say the state Department of Land and Natural Resources' proposed rules don't go far enough, contain loopholes and lack enforcement power.

The regulations would add to a patchwork of sometimes competing jurisdictions in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a 1,100-mile stretch of small islands, big reefs and atolls extending from Nihoa Island, 150 miles northwest of Kaua'i, to Kure Atoll, 1,200 miles beyond Kaua'i.

Most dry land areas in the region form part of a national wildlife refuge except for Kure, which is a state refuge.

Midway is a federal refuge being managed by private contractor Midway Phoenix Corp.

The state controls areas from the beaches to three miles from shore. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, a federal entity, establishes fishing regulations for areas around the islands and the 1.5 million-square-mile area that includes Hawai'i, Samoa and the Western Pacific.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and Coast Guard enforce federal regulations around the islands. And finally, in one of his last acts in office, President Clinton established the islands as a coral reef ecosystem reserve, which federal agencies hope to convert to a national marine sanctuary.

The state now wants to institute new rules with its proposed Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Fisheries Management Area that would allow no access without a permit, and no permit issued without a 30-day public comment period.

The department said in a press release that fishing permitted within the state's three-mile boundary would include only trolling, hand lines and pole and line. But the actual language of the regulation says a permit could allow other types of fishing.

No one would be allowed to step ashore on any island, and any action would be prohibited that would destroy coral, including anchoring, according to the permit language.

Kahea released a statement saying no fishing should be allowed within atoll lagoons or on shallow reefs, even with a permit. It argues that any permits should be for specific sites, not the entire archipelago. The group also calls for enforcement measures including electronic monitoring of vessel locations and inspection of fishing catch at the dock.

Stephanie Fried, senior scientist for Environmental Defense, said she is concerned the state has removed language that would require state protections to be at least as strong as federal protections in surrounding waters.

"I congratulate the state for taking steps to enable it to exercise its jurisdiction of these waters, but the regulations must include conservation as a goal. Right now the words 'conservation' and 'protection' are completely missing from the intent sections," Fried said.

Copies of the proposed regulation are available on the Web.

Hearings on the proposed rules began in Honolulu last night. More meetings are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today at Wilcox School cafeteria in Lihu'e, Kaua'i; 6 p.m. tomorrow at Lihikai Elementary School in Kahului, Maui; 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at Kealakehe Intermediate School cafeteria in Kona, Hawai'i; and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 31 in the Hilo Intermediate School cafeteria, also on the Big Island.

Written comments can be mailed to the Division of Aquatic Resources at 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 330, Honolulu, HI 96813.